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Policy framework

An important challenge for environmental policy is to make best use of research results and new scientific findings in policy development and implementation. Within the field of environment and climate change, this link is quite clear, with a major change in policy driver in recent years being the focus on these issues. Some major political milestones that have affected EU research priorities and vice-versa are described below.

European Climate Change Programme

In March 2007, EU leaders committed the EU to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% of 1990 levels by 2020 provided that other developed countries commit to making comparable reductions under a global agreement. In addition, to start transforming Europe into a highly energy-efficient, low-carbon economy, they committed to cutting emissions by at least 20% independently of what other countries decide to do.
To underpin these commitments, EU leaders set three key targets to be met by 2020:
a 20% reduction in energy consumption compared with projected trends
an increase to 20% in renewable energies' share of total energy consumption;
an increase to 10% in the share of petrol and diesel consumption from sustainably-produced biofuels
In January 2008 the Commission proposed a major package of climate and energy-related legislative proposals to implement these commitments and targets.

6th Environmental Action Programme

The 6th Environmental Action Programme (EAP), adopted in 2002, sets out the framework for environmental policy-making in the EU for 2002–12 and outlines actions that need to be taken to achieve them. With four priority areas – climate change, nature and biodiversity, environment and health, and natural resources and waste – the 6th EAP aims for environmental protection requirements to be fully integrated into all EU policies and actions. In addition, it recognises that policies must be based on sound science, economic assessment of cost-effectiveness and the transparent partnership of all the major stakeholders. Under the 6th EAP, seven Thematic Strategies have been developed, building on the existing EU legal/regulatory framework and including new knowledge on threats to human health and the environment.

Eco-innovation Action Plan (EcoAP)

The strategic importance of environmental technologies has been highlighted by the Eco-innovation Action Plan (EcoAP) launched in 2011 by both DG Environment and DG Research & Innovation. The EcoAP is one of the commitments of the Innovation Union Flagship Initiative, building on the 2004 Environmental Technologies Action Plan (ETAP). It expands the focus from green technologies to the broader concept of eco-innovation, targeting specific bottlenecks, challenges and opportunities for achieving environmental objectives through innovation. The EcoAP includes actions both on the demand and supply side, on research and industry and on policy and financial instruments. The Plan recognizes the key role of environmental regulation as a driver of eco-innovation and foresees a review of environmental legislation. It also stresses the importance of research and innovation to produce more innovative technologies and bring them to the market. The Plan also puts emphasis on the international aspect of eco-innovation, and on better coordination of policies with international partners.

International climate change agreements

The EU and its Member States ratified the Kyoto Protocol to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which aims to strengthen the international response to climate change. By ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries commit to reducing their collective emissions of six key greenhouse gases by at least 5%. By arresting and reversing the upward trend in greenhouse gas emissions that started in these countries 150 years ago, the Protocol promises to move the international community one step closer to achieving the Convention’s ultimate objective of preventing ‘dangerous anthropogenic [man-made] interference with the climate system’. Each country’s emissions target must be achieved by the period 2008–12, while actual emission reductions will be much larger than 5%.

The Kyoto Protocol agreement is currently being reviewed and talks on commitments for the post-2012 period are ongoing. As part of these talks, the EU participated in the 2007 Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Bali (Indonesia) in December 2007, where it was agreed to start formal negotiations on a global climate regime for the post-2012 period and on a ‘Bali Roadmap’ that sets out an agenda for these negotiations.

The conference, held in December 2007, set an end-2009 (COP 15 Copenhagen 2009) deadline for completing the negotiations to allow time for governments to ratify and implement the future climate agreement by the end of 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ends. The decision explicitly acknowledged the findings of the recent scientific assessment by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and recognised that deep cuts in global emissions of greenhouse gases will be required to prevent global warming from reaching dangerous levels.